I think the metaverse is bullshit, but my opinion hasn’t stopped Facebook from spending billions on R&D or startup investors from flinging millions of dollars at any company that says the words “blockchain” and “metaverse” in a sentence. While talking to Valve president Gabe Newell last week about the Steam Deck, cryptocurrency, and more, I was relieved to hear that he doesn’t get the buzz, either.
“There’s a bunch of get rich quick schemes around metaverse,” Newell said when I asked him if he believes metaverse trends are helping push technology forward.
“Most of the people who are talking about metaverse have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. And they’ve apparently never played an MMO. They’re like, ‘Oh, you’ll have this customizable avatar.’ And it’s like, well… go into La Noscea in Final Fantasy 14 and tell me that this isn’t a solved problem from a decade ago, not some fabulous thing that you’re, you know, inventing.”
Cyberpunk novels like William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash are often cited as inspirations for the metaverse, but tech moguls have been trying to recreate those books’ visions of cyberspace for years now while conveniently ignoring their dystopian themes. It’s capital M capital P Missing the Point, and Newell gave me a bit of reassurance on that front from an unexpected source: one of the actual authors.
“I’m friends with Neal Stephenson, and every time we get together, he just puts his face in his hands. So it’s like, ‘okay, what metaverse story is driving you insane today?'”
Newell is a bit more optimistic than I am, adding that he’s sure “it’ll get sorted out” eventually. But we’re definitely of a similar mind on the current wave of shallow get-rich-quick metaverse schemes.
“Obviously the gaming industry has been exploring these technologies for a long time,” he said. “It will be interesting to see if anybody who’s sort of coming to the party late has much to add, rather than a desire to have a whole bunch of people give them a bunch of money for magic reasons. But you know, in the end, customers and useful technology win out, so I’m not super worried about that.”